RABBIT AND COCKROACH REFLECTIONS
This is an artistic-contribution to the project STATUS, which is about the artist’s role in changing society, an exchange between Belarus and Sweden. At the meeting in Brest in September 2018, I became fond of the idea of looking at myself as a research-rabbit. I proposed to our little study group to come up with questions about what artists are useful (a utility) for. I had the idea that the research group could program me to act out in that way. When telling this to my colleague Nils Claesson he commented: so you want to be a rabbit? One can read this angle of mine as a response to the parasite-tax that the Belarusian government has proposed. The proposed tax forbids artists to not be useful for society, whereas an artist group Flying Cooperation proposed to be a religious sect that they named EKZOKOID to avoid this tax.1
In our study group in Brest, we argued that the ‘art-audience’ and ‘public’ should come up with ideas on how art and activism could contribute to society. In that discussion, we came up with our group’s name ‘Heritagization’ since we all agreed that art and activism contributes to society and that art is a part of a process of ‘the making of heritage’. So after that we constructed questions (see questionnaire by Heritagization group), and since I am a little bit scared of working with small children, I began by asking small children. My idea was to use the answers – and form/shape/modulate them to become an artistic-activity and maybe act out the answers (making proposals for heritagization and how art and activism can contribute to heritage) in a performance in Minsk in spring 2019 – preferably a collective performance. But, after having done the research with children on the 1st of November in Stockholm, I am reconsidering my idea and feel that I really need to add a cockroach to this project.
A rabbit is a used and useful animal – a utility that can contribute to society or to a ‘master’ of some kind. A cockroach, rather, is a parasite – the cockroach is not useful and does not contribute to society except to themself and maybe a small circle of friends and family.2
How could the cockroach ask questions to society?
I plan to ask the questions above in a negative manner in Gothenburg in March. Asking them like: 1) What do you hate doing most of all? Name an activity you hate would be in the future?…. 2) Is there any object that you really hate and wish that the future would know about it?….and so forth 3) a place you wish would disappear?
After reading the Swedish magazine Hjärnstorm (released in November 2018) BELARUS/SWEDEN I understood the Belarusian artistic point of view more than on my journey to Brest in August-September. Maybe it was good to come ‘pure’ without much pre-understanding and to be open-minded and just listen. Anyhow, the idea of the rabbit came from wondering a lot about my own contribution and challenge in the project. I saw the journey to Brest as a research trip without knowing what to research…more than looking for the artist’s role in a changing society, I took a bit of reality from my life and my fellow artist colleagues. Well I felt like a rabbit, and I also felt a bit used to be honest. When reading a bit more about the Belarusian government’s proposal about the parasite-tax, I wondered if I should not try out another more-parasitic type of being? A cockroach – inspired by Kafka – would fit well into my artistic research perhaps. As an artist, I spend my time doing something for no reason, but there is somehow a natural continuity for artists always anyway…well I am a junky for new challenges and circumstances – so here I am! Working again and making a complex meta-perspective on who is leeching off of whom and for what and what for? For me it comes down to an altered Shakespearean question – to do or not to do? And what does art do anyway?
My artistic challenge is how I could transfer all the ‘public’ answers to a collective performance in Minsk. I should if possible have time to ask the same questions in Minsk that I will ask in Gothenburg in March 2019 and maybe before that see what answers the other people in the “‘Heritagization-group’” come up with.
Right now, today on December 27, 2018, I also like the difference between the center and the periphery a lot – and I am tempted to add a comment on that in a performance around making queues. Maybe a queue of cockroaches standing in a line to post letters in a post box. The letters could be about ideas of the future: what to leave behind for the future or not leave behind?
The future now is behind us, as is argued by Zygmunt Bauman in his final book Retrotopia,3 and he means that we love to look at the time that has passed. So this year…2018 (well soon over) is the year of “Cultural Heritage in the EU” – I am asking what we can do in order to keep this ‘making’ as heritage and keep some space and hope about the future? Can we re-future our situation? MAKE RE-FUTURISM MAYBE…..how to re-future our space? And to do that as an anomaly, to go against this idea of ‘building’ identity through history…..how can we do that? I love to ask these question as an artist.
So for me now it could be an idea – to make some new questions for Gothenburg in March 2019 before coming to Minsk… to go against what the people want the rabbit to do and instead be the cockroach – the uninvited, the not wanted – as a refusing to be useful as an artist – and after that let’s see what sort of performance it will be in Minsk in June 2019.
The first use of the questionnaire
On 1st of November 2018 I walk over the central square Sergels Torg in Stockholm city. It is cold and windy, but there is warm latin music with salsa rhythms coming from speakers outside on the square as well as in the ‘room for children’ where I am heading. It is an open studio space in a public library in Kulturhuset (Stockholm city cultural center and City theater). They have several open studios for different ages: 0-13, 10-13, and 14-25. Beside that there is an ordinary open library and other places for exhibitions, cinemas, concerts, and seminars.
First, one enters the library for children and then one enters the room ‘Bildverkstaden’ (Imagery workshop). There is a small fee for using materials and there are three pedagogues taking care of the children and the ones who accompany them.
When I enter, there are several groups working with cut papers to make figures for shadow-games. The pedagogues have prepared trays with working materials, and now the children and their parents, grandmothers, or caretakers are sitting next to them while the children are working on their figures.
I have talked to the staff, and they have read my questions; we have agreed that I should ask some of the most common/steady guests. They know that I want to use myself as an ‘research-rabbit’ and ask the children about what they think heritagization could be and what art and activism can contribute to. This is a good place to sit and talk because children and the ones accompanying them have time to sit down, and the Latin music in the speakers is not too loud, so conversation is possible. There are people coming to Kulturhuset from all over the town and from all socio-economic groups, so the mix is good.
Looking over the room, I think the children are from about 4 years until about 13 years. All gender among children and company is mixed.
The questions are about activities, objects, places:
What do you like doing most of all? Some activity? Something you do in company or would do if you had some others to join you?
Is there anything you think you want to tell the children of the future about?
Why? What is special about ‘doing’ ‘making’ ‘saying’ or ‘action/activity’?
Is there something (object) – a tool or a toy – that you are particular fond of?
Is there an object you want to tell the children of the future about? Why?
Is there a place – around here – or somewhere else – that you are particularly fond of? Is that space or place or building important to save for the children of the future? Why?
What do you think heritagization can do? What is your proposal for a heritagization-process?
Do you have any idea what artists do today?
What do you think artists should/could do today?
I had conversation with
1) Tea (7 years) and her grandmother,
2) Milton (8) with his mother and sister Loella (13)
3) Zainda (10) with her caretaker and her brother Benjamin (7)
So all in all I have asked five (5) children how they look at heritagization and art. It is important to consider that the answers have been produced through conversations and are made in a culturally sensitive place where children’s handicrafts are in focus. Below I group the answers under the questions:
– I love handicraft (ghosts and bats, make pearl-work, carpentry and such). I have made a post box with flowers, a post box that one could enter as if it was also a house.
– Build lego
– Play and go to school
– Make handicraft, and ‘klappramsor’ the rhythms and songs when one clap one’s hands together
– Drive cars and make pizzas
– A box with tools for handicrafts…pens and cups and such
– A thing built with lego, I want to show my children what I built as a child
– Cards, images about today
– Images from pets. I want to show how pumps for insulin looked like before and old music
– Trains and radio-cars
– An island, my summer island, my mother’s childhood summer house, an old house, I want to keep that old house, it is not stuck to the ground
– My living-room, the most important stuff is the TV – where you watch films and a big soft carpet
– The school, it has a big school-yard and with the rooms one can stay at when it is break, you educate yourself there and have plenty of friends
– France, except for the snails that people eat
– Tour de Eiffel
– Memory – heritage should be memory
– I want to tell about insulin-pumps, they used to be really big – now I have a small one (shows her stomach)
– I have to think…build houses
– Build houses like this one – full of candy
– They should not take material that is artificial or waste natural resources we don’t have much of
– They could paint, and they could make cars that are run by garbage – or water – as long as the garbage does not smell too bad
Reflections on the interviews
Tea is commenting on her post box and her island that she wants to save – people are so close here so we do not need a post box on the island.
Asking children is in many ways asking their parents certain things. Small children want to do ‘right’ and answer correctly and want to understand why I, the rabbit, am asking these questions. So in that sense the children reproduce their parent’s (or their influencer’s) point of view – that is very clear in some of the answers, and also in some of the answers that there is a certain need to reflect the parents’ or brothers or sisters’ point of view.
From a conversation at Konstfack (Art college) about my STATUS-project and about activities for children – I learned there is a big difference in the countryside and suburbs compared to the city. In the city, one needs to stand in a queue (line) for hours, whereas in the country there are no lines or queues.
Article: RITENS MASKERAD in Hjärnstorm 132, by EKZOKOID, December 2018, p. 62↩
An application called TaskRabbit uses the animal to signify utility. The app pairs normal people as ‘taskers’, and they can contract to do bullshit jobs for other people who create short, temporary jobs or tasks to be fulfilled. It is a deskilling and making oneself useful for small pay, freelance tasks. ↩
Zygmunt Bauman, 2017. Retrotopia. Cambridge: Polity Press.↩